MPs have said the immigration appeals system is on the verge of a crisis as delays continue to plague the process. Hackney South MP Meg Hillier has told the Gazette that the number of people reporting problems with the immigration appeals process has reached record levels.
Her Labour colleague Keith Vaz, MP for Leicester East, last week told parliament that appeals to bring a spouse into the country now take up to 18 months just to get a tribunal hearing date.
The Gazette reported in October that immigration appeal hearings were being put back by up to nine months and that HM Courts and Tribunals Service had drawn up a list of ‘priority’ cases to ensure the most urgent issues were dealt with.
Statistics published by the Ministry of Justice earlier this month reveal the caseload in the First-tier Tribunal Immigration and Asylum Chamber was 62,900 at the end of September – an increase of 20% compared to the same time in 2015.
The tribunal disposed of 18,000 appeals from July to September this year – down 13% on the same period in 2015.
The mean age of a case at disposal in the FTTIAC was 48 weeks in the third quarter of 2016 – 15 weeks longer than last year.
Hillier, who is chair of the commons Public Accounts Committee, said she was sympathetic to the complexities of the immigration appeals system but the current state of the system was ‘shocking’.
‘The response of the government has been pretty poor and it is having a devastating impact on people’s lives,’ she said. ‘People are coming to my surgery who have not heard when their case will be or have been told to wait months.
‘Rather than being in denial the government needs to get a grip and understand there is an issue.’
The government says the increase in average time taken for cases to be cleared is due to an increased proportion of more complex cases which require more court time.
This also impacts the number of disposals and in turn is reflected in the number of cases outstanding.
Justice minister Sir Oliver Heald was quizzed by Vaz directly on the delays during last week’s evidence session of the House of Commons justice committee.
Vaz said he had a ‘very heavy caseload’ on immigration and suggested the government has a problem with delays in the immigration and asylum system.
He stated there are fewer immigration judges and said tribunal users are not getting a good service at present.
Heald replied: ‘I accept that we need to improve that area. We are working very hard on it, and I am hopeful that speeds will improve.’
Pressed to say whether he knew the current levels of immigration backlogs in the courts, he said there had been work done on this, but he did not have a figure to hand.
In response to a written question this month on immigration appeals, Heald added: ’We do everything we can to avoid unnecessary delay in the Immigration & Asylum Tribunal and we have provided an additional 4,950 tribunal sitting days for this financial year to ensure current case loads do not increase.
‘We are keeping performance under close review and are confident there is sufficient capacity to deal with the number of appeals we expect to receive.’